Prior to the 2013 draft in which the Cowboys picked Travis Frederick, the thought of trading down would have been met with a largely negative response by Cowboys fans collectively still scarred by the 2009 draft debacle that saw the Cowboys trade down multiple times in the draft only to end up with nothing. Pre-Fredbeard, a small fraction of the fanbase might have argued that trading down would allow the Cowboys to address depth issues and increase the overall value of their draft picks, but the majority would probably have categorically ruled out trading down, if for no other reason than an inherent distrust of the Cowboys' front office.
Post-Fredbeard it's suddenly okay to talk about trading down. Such is the fickle nature of our fandom.
The Cowboys have been involved in draft day trades in 24 of their 26 drafts under Jerry Jones. You may not like it, but the Cowboys are going to move around in the draft, that's almost a given. The only two years in which the Cowboys managed to keep their feet still on draft weekend were 2000 and 2011.
And while Jerry Jones may not be the maverick owner he once was, his appetite for wheeling and dealing remains as strong as ever. As Cowboys fans, we've grown used to idea that trading down may be a good thing because it nets us extra picks. So much so that when a member on a board like ours suggests trading down, he's no longer shouted down or ridiculed; instead the suggestion is discussed on its merits.
But regardless of the Cowboys "lucking out" on the 2013 trade that netted them Travis Frederick and Terrance Williams, when you trade down, odds are you're exchanging one better player for two lesser players. Sure, there are exceptions, but as a rule, the higher the draft pick, the better the player.
But that dynamic changes when you're trading for a future pick.
When you trade for a future pick, you're effectively exchanging a lesser player for a better player, just in the next year. And there's the crux: Many teams/GMs/coaches don't have the patience or the job security to think about developing a team for the long haul, because they want to win this year.
And this is the cardinal draft mistake many teams make: if you think a third-round pick is going to make the difference to your current season, you deserve nothing less than to be screwed out of next year's second-rounder by the Patriots. Again, of course there are examples where a third-rounder made a significant difference in his first year, but for every one that did, I'll show you 20 that didn't.
Here are 11 draft-day trades over the last 12 years that netted the team trading down a first-round pick the following season. The table does not contain trades that involved future picks beyond the next season or involved the exchange of players or coaches.
|2003||19=41 and Next Year's First||Ravens||Patriots|
|2004||22=43+144 and Next Year's First||Bills||Cowboys|
|2005||25=76 and Next Year's First (and 4th)||Redskins||Broncos|
|2007||22=36 and Next Year's First||Browns||Cowboys|
|2007||28=110 and Next Year's First||49ers||Patriots|
|2007||42=126 and Next Year's First||Colts||49ers|
|2008||19=43+109 and Next Year's First||Panthers||Eagles|
|2009||43=111 and Next Year's First||Panthers||49ers|
|2009||37 = Next Year's First||Broncos||Seahawks|
|2011||6=26+59+124 and Next Year's First (and 4th)||Falcons||Browns|
|2011||28=56 and Next Year's First||Saints||Patriots|
Over the period above, the Cowboys have twice been involved in a trade for a future pick, twice for the 22nd pick in the first round. Each time they got a second-rounder and a first-round in the next draft for their pick. Two trades are in closer vicinity to the Cowboys' 27th pick: In 2007 the Patriots traded their 27th pick for a fourth-rounder and a first-round pick in 2008, and in 2011 the Patriots again traded their 28th overall pick, but this time the Saints offered a second rounder and a first-round pick in 2012.
If somebody were to offer the Cowboys next year's first and a second-rounder this year for the 27th overall pick, should the Cowboys do it?
The advantage of using their 27th pick as trade bait is that it should give them an extra pick in this year's second round and an extra pick in next year's first round - and packaging their 60th pick for a future first seems unlikely to be realistic. If you take the 2011 trade between the Saints and Patriots as a template, the Cowboy now simply have to look for a team drafting in the second half of the second round that meets at least one of the following criteria:
- A team that believes it is in "win now mode," either because the window for a key player (or players) is closing, or because it believes it is "just one player away".
- A front office that is concerned with its job security if it doesn't create a quick win in the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately NFL.
- A team that has an unstoppable infatuation with a particular player.
The Cardinals were oh-so-close last year - if only they had an offense. Currently sitting at 24 and 55, Arizona might be eager to double-dip at the bottom of the first round.
Consensus around the league seems to be that the Colts are just a running back and possibly a linebacker away from a Super Bowl appearance. Quality players at both positions can be had at the bottom of the first. Bundling their 61st pick with their first rounder in 2016 might get them Dallas' 27th overall pick.
Sitting at number 50, the Bills don't have a first-round pick this year (traded away their 2015 first rounder to move up four spots in 2014 to grab Sammy Watkins). They may want a first-rounder for their new head coach (Rex Ryan) and their new owner (Terrence Pegula), and I'm sure the Cowboys would be receptive to a trade that involves the 50th pick and a first-round pick in 2016.
If you're Denver, and Peyton Manning stays on for at least one more year, do you go all in and give up your 59th pick and a first rounder in 2016 to move up to No. 27?
In the end, it's all a matter of price. The Cowboys will likely want to come away with at least an extra pick in the second round this year and a future first for their 27th pick. There could be teams willing to pay that price. Should the newly minted NFL Executive of the year pull the trigger on such a deal?